Prayers Of Worship

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Prayers Of Worship

As we plan our times of worship, there’s both the excitement of crafting the flow and the responsibility doing so rightly. Choosing elements for the worship gathering is a process by God’s Word and Spirit. I may want the super-artistic approach, but what does the Holy Spirit say? I may want to introduce that new song, but holding off and offering songs that stabilize the focus may best serve God’s people. I'm constantly considering the parts of a service.

But can I be honest with you? I have too often planned these godly good "parts" of the service and just filled in transitional space with that “thing” called prayer.

As God has helped me in planning, He’s directed me to spend more time considering how to pray thematically and intentionally. Normally, we plan as such: “So there’s final song here and video there. We really need to soften that transition. Any ideas? Ahh yes… let’s just pray there.” JUST PRAY? JUST? PRAY? When we pray as worship leaders and pastors, we are able to engage with God and His people on a level that should be most fervent and vibrant.

Dear God…

When we pray, thank God, it is not sent through the Postal Service. Thank God, it is directly connected to the Creator of Heaven and Earth, Who is almighty, living, true, immutable, eternal, incomprehensible, holy, righteous, good, loving, merciful, gracious, and infinite! If I get to pray while leading worship or leading a song, it had better be humbly passionate for the glory of this Great God! We talk to our family, friends, and colleagues in a horizontal normative way. But when we approach the throne of God, we are addressing the source and fountainhead of our blessedness.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2)

It’s helped me to rightly approach God in prayer after a few songs by just pausing and reflecting and even uttering a focused thanks and praise before every saying “Father…”. Maybe the church of Colossae needed the same reminder I often need - Be watchful in prayer.

Praying Teaches

Our public praying helps others form their own words for private prayer. Don’t expect fervent personal devotion and prayer in your congregation if you have not exemplified it. If you aren’t praying God-dependent Christ-centered prayers, don’t expect your people to either. Sometimes praying through the lyrics of a song are helpful, because you’re forming the confession from proclamation into supplication. Do you ever wonder why the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray? The habits of Jesus were quite influential on his disciples. He regularly showed dependence on the Father (Jn. 5) and was found praying at times when others weren’t (Mk. 1:35). It’s after Jesus finishes praying (in Luke 11) when his disciples are intrigued about prayer for themselves. Worship leader, make disciples in your prayers!

What To Pray

Often we pray charismatic, joy-filled, general prayers - and that’s great! - but have you ever prayed in repentance, or for healing, or financial wisdom? Have you ever prayed God’s specific will? Have you prayed for your sins and the sins of your church? When we pastorally lead a service, the gravity of the moment is for Christ to be formed in us. We should pray according to the Scriptures, because God hears us! (1 Jn. 5:14, Jas. 1:5-6) We should ask the Spirit to fulfill eager groaning in us when we know not what we ought to pray. (Rom 8) Leading a service in Spirit-led Word-drenched prayer will steer hearts to see the Gospel and worship from a true place of dependence.

 

Isaac Watts said, “Prayer is the proper work of the heart; yet in this present state, in secret as well as in social prayer, the language of the lips is an excellent aid in this part of worship.” Prayer will reflect your confession and your confession directs how you worship.

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All Wells Run Dry: Another Look At Worship In John 4

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All Wells Run Dry: Another Look At Worship In John 4

Two of the most recognized stories in the New Testament, if not in all the Scriptures, are found in John 4. In a conversation between an immoral thirsty woman and Jesus, are two luring stories of 1.) Christ showing love to an often overlooked stereotype and 2.) a clear description of worship in Spirit and Truth. But, I think there’s third drama for the heart in this story - a drama for what worship leading is all about.

As Jesus was making disciples, he came to a well in Sychar, Samaria. I’m sure his disciples lifted their noses as they passed through. These people were illegitimate half-breeds whose ancestors were part of the idolatrous northern kingdom of Israel and those who were not exiled. They were syncretists at minimum. As Jesus addressed the woman, he asked for physical water. She's shocked that a Jew addressed a Samaritan and at that, a woman. He then says a very strange thing: if you knew the gift of God and who it was talking to you, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. She was oblivious to Jesus, but he stepped into her story and made himself known. He challenged both her pride in the sufficiency of Jacob’s well and her disposition as a sinner. She begins perceiving and the story begins to show us what worship leading actually looks like:

From Oblivion To Perception

Before we can worship God as those who belong to Him, we must have a supernatural miracle take place. Jesus said it best “if you knew the gift of God… you would have asked for living water”. If she could have seen Him as the Messiah, she would have not seen a jewish man by Jacob’s well. She was blind in sin. It was only by a sudden shift in perception that she saw this Jewish man as a prophet or someone with spiritual insight. She was awakened to spiritual perception. Every worshipper and leader of worship is first given the gift of grace that regenerates spiritual blindness and inclined thirst to lay hold of the living water. 

When we lead worship, our priority should be that people are awakened to the spiritual reality of eternal life in Christ. The Samaritan woman longed for the Messiah and the Messiah fulfilled her longing. (4:25-26) She knew she was sinner, but she hoped in the Promise.  If we don’t prioritize this, we will be surrounded by talented musicians and a crowd. Is sin revealed in your worship leading? What Hope are you revealing?

Jesus Alone

This Samaritan woman boasted in her ancestral well. Jacob had laid a sufficient well for surrounding communities and their livestock. What Jesus spoke to, concerning living water, was a matchless worthiness. Jacob’s well (still operational today) would dry up in summer heat. It was a resource to be proud of, but not one to fully rely on. Jesus mentions himself as the whole-saving (sozo) water of eternal living. Showing the physical deficiencies of Jacob's well, he notes his worthiness to eternally satisfy. Our worship is through the eternal gift of satisfying water. Our feeble efforts could never sustain our families, services, ministries, or souls. True worship happens in the sole display of Christ’s worthiness. Too often, Jesus is worthy, but “hey, check out our gear and the cool things we can do with it”. Jesus is worthy, “but we also have degrees that legitimize our ministry”. Jesus is worthy, but… and it's in this facade we lead others to dry wells. What makes worship for you and your church? Is it the worthiness of Christ alone?

In verse 28, it says, “so the woman left her jar and went away into the town…”. She never fetched the water from the well. She left empty handed. She abandoned her tool for collecting boasts in the well of Jacob in order to proclaim Christ alone.

When A Half-Breed Led Worship

Clueless about Christology, this regenerated woman, leads worship for the first time. She doesn’t know much, but she knows this Jesus is the Messiah. She goes back to her town and points them to a man who knew her unlike anyone had ever known her. She also says the only thing a person aware of Christ could have said “is this not the Christ?” She wasn’t in a position called “worship leader”, but she was a lead worshipper. That’s the heart of those who lead others to worship God. She didn’t have a band, guitar on her back, a stage, or dynamic lighting. She had the proclamation of Jesus and his power to grant eternal life. She pointed the town to the Living Water. Your church needs the Living Water, not nostalgic or progressive worship formats. 

Are you in awe of Jesus? Convey this necessity for true worship or you too will boast in dry wells. She didn't need a format in order to lead people to Jesus, she just proclaimed Jesus. While formats are good and biblical, if we misplace our aim, all energy is vain. Pray this prayer with me: Lord, my abilities are dry wells, but you are the Living Water, sufficient for your Church. Help me to display and rely on your Gospel so that we may offer ourselves up rightly with spiritual worship that pleases You.


This is the only worship that pleases the Father: spiritual worship through Christ in the Truth of his ability to reconcile us to a holy God. The glory and grace of Jesus will sustain our worship in the Church. There’s a lot of things we do and could do, but we are not benefiting from those resources. Friends, we are benefiting from the Gospel of Jesus every single time that we express praise to God.


...in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high… Hebrews 1:2-3

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HOW TO PRAY FOR YOUNGER WORSHIP LEADERS & MUSICIANS

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HOW TO PRAY FOR YOUNGER WORSHIP LEADERS & MUSICIANS

If you’re leading worship as an adult, chances are, you were once that “kid” in youth group who was handed a chord book of worship songs and shoved on stage by a parent or leader to “lead worship!” I know I was and I’m thankful for it! We all know amid being formidable as a teenager, learning to lead people in worship is also a process. In a brief list, I want to submit how and what we can pray for for those who are learning how to serve the Church and how to ultimately render appropriate worship to God. These are just a few I know were prayed over me!


Pray for knowledge of Christ.

1 John 2:20 affirms the anointing of God in the knowing of God and Christ. We know that student ministry is a forming tool for discipleship and learning one’s role in the broader context of spiritual gifts. However, it begins with saving knowledge of Christ before gifting and purpose. Sometimes we let this one slide, but we do the young person a soulful disservice. Pleasing worship comes through Christ, pray they know Christ!
 

Pray for holiness and purity.

I have consistently seen those called to worship ministry undergo failure because they wouldn’t guard their hearts and bodies. The Psalmist says God blesses the righteous with favor (Ps. 5). Learning how to worship at the heart level will sustain anyone serious about worship ministry. We all feel the world’s pull to give into sin. Pray they seek sexual purity.


Pray they take preaching seriously.

If a student grows up on stages, they often think of the preaching and teaching of God’s word as something faintly audible from the green room or lobby and of lesser necessity for spiritual formation. I’ll leave it there.


Pray for godly older friendships.

One of the greatest thing to happen to your young worshipper is that they build a relationship with a mentor.


Pray for humility.

Being on a stage, displaying transparency and exaltation is important, but here I’m implying approachability. Your young worship leader is a servant and I wish someone would have told me that sooner! Pray that the servanthood of Jesus would be formed in them!


Pray for boldness.

God’s functional gifts are a measure of faith given (Romans 12). Exercising in those gifts aren’t always approached in confidence. Pray that as they understand the gift given that they also propel with dependence that God’s Spirit will do the work in them.


Pray for contentment.

Godliness with contentment is great gain! (1 Tim 6) I’ve seen a generation of young worship leaders  and musicians who equate greatness with platforms, materials, and recognition. Pray that there’s a great clarity to trust God with their gifts. If they go on to study music or be a painter and church volunteer, greatness is according to God’s purposes at work in them!

 

 Pray for understanding of worship and performance.

Today’s worship has become dominated by production and performance. Encourage, teach, and pray toward true exaltation of God. Ask them if they know the difference. Pray they evaluate their service in whether the mission of God was accomplished through their gift!

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By Methods of Our Own: The Gospel and Creativity

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By Methods of Our Own: The Gospel and Creativity

In vain we seek for peace with God
By methods of our own:
 Jesus, there's nothing but thy blood
 Can bring us near the throne.

 - Isaac Watts; Hymn 38


Watts viewed the Christian singing of his time as “negligent and thoughtless”, and so he began writing his own hymns. In Hymn 38, the Gospel is clear: sin makes approaching God impossible, but the blood of Christ brings us near to the throne of God. Watts gave no praise to the best creative methods of man. Just as the gospel is effective without human creativity for salvation, so also we must be convinced that the Gospel is power of God to sustain the church and nourish her whole operation. In most of today’s churches, creativity (new and nostalgic) is believed to be the purpose and experience of a church gathering. We’ve hosted sensational displays of modern and traditional production, but the “disciples” of our creative gatherings are unaware of what the Gospel is or why it should direct every gathering. How do we move from Creative Gatherings to Gospel-centered gatherings?

The Gospel Every Week

“Oh the gospel? Yes, that’s elementary teaching, you know, like Hebrews talks about”. As I shared a cup of coffee with a local worship leader, I realized the conversation needed to shift to defining the Gospel of Jesus. He was convinced the Gospel was something Christians step over (after conversion) to get to more grace-filled priorities. Friend, if the Gospel is muddy, your entire approach to the Kingdom of Christ is muddy. The gospel begins with God and ends with God with every part of the narrative being told and worked by God.

There is certainly nothing elementary about the narrative of God’s Gospel. Do you believe the Gospel is sufficient for every portion of every gathering you have?

Let The Word of Christ Dwell Richly

Spiritual experiences through creativity is on the rise in churches. For over a century, we’ve moved away from word-centered worship and into creative experiences. Members are having more encounters with art, dynamic speaking, and power presentation, but scarcely with the Scriptures. Also, members having engaged in nostalgic patterns that have no relevance to the Gospel. Some liturgies have become so far removed that even confessional or scriptural readings are stripped from context in order to serve tradition. It’s not by accident that in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5, the apostle regards the Word as the means to purposeful worship. While psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs were likely culturally creative and folk-related to the recipients of those epistles, they were only a vehicle running on the powerful Word of God. The methods, as Watts pointed out, are pointless in contrast to the true grace-filled experience of the Word of Christ dwelling in us richly. The only way to experience worship is in Spirit (relating to God on His terms) and Truth (confessing God’s terms). There’s many ways to direct a gathering - many creative ways - but what is the experience of “church”? Does your gathering leave people experiencing the Creator based on His Truth?

Results of Experiencing Creativity

If you plan, spend, rehearse, and execute around creativity, you’ll find more people gathering for a synth sound, guitar solos, energetic leaders, stained glass, pipe organs, and candelabras. The next sad step of this is how to maintain those you attracted. What I’ve seen happen is the Gospel proclamation becomes totally skipped and metrics tell us how to lead worship and build up the Church of Christ.

Musicians and leaders will begin thinking they “nailed” the part if they played, sang, preached, prayed, or read in a way that was creative, artistic, or attractive. We’ll begin training people to believe “all is well and fulfilled” by executing creative plans versus proclaiming and engaging in the Gospel. If you don’t have a drummer, proclaim the Gospel in worship. If your pipe organ goes down, proclaim the Gospel in worship.

Results of Experiencing the Gospel

When the Gospel of God - God himself - is the thread that holds our gathering together we sing, confess, pray, praise, listen, and partake in a practice that forms Christ in us (Gal. 4:19). Paul was most concerned that this spiritual formation would take place in the Galatians. More than preference or maintaining status, Paul cared most about the Gospel and implications active in the church.

Practically, from the moment people wake up and until the benediction (send off) is given, the gathering should be expectantly attended and participated in with every ounce telling the story of God. In the Old (First) Testament, we read of Ezra and Nehemiah leading the people to a climax of restoring God’s worship. In Nehemiah 8 there’s not a great production. In fact, Ezra makes the Word plain to them and they immediately reinstitute Yahweh’s prescriptions for Israel and repentance. The drama is centered on the Gospel/Word.

 
How can you better steward your gathering time and planning to create consumers of the infinite God and His Gospel versus consumers of your finite creativity? I pray you’re encouraged to see your methods as mere paint on the walls for the church and God’s Gospel as the perfect pillars of truth...and in that, to use your creativity to proclaim Christ alone! May your creativity only serve the great Gospel so clearly known in God’s Word and proclaimed for generations before us.

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Worship in the Darkest Hour: Suffering & Doxology

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Worship in the Darkest Hour: Suffering & Doxology

In the human experience, whether we know Christ or not, we certainly know suffering. While culture (and much of the Church) searches and preaches the light-within, we all fall short of a Glory that brings relief - the Glory of Christ. Every new day brings news of death, abuse, war, famine, sickness, and loneliness.

We all suffer.

In our suffering some of the most notable songs have been written; some of the most notable times of worship have come at our darkest hours. The songs of humans who know Christ sounds completely different from those who aimlessly suffer. We purposefully suffer while the world aimlessly suffers. God uses our suffering for His glory.

The Scriptures are filled with truths that suffering leads to doxology (God-glorifying praise). It’s in God’s purposes that we see and sing a greater purpose beyond ourselves. What we believe about suffering can either heighten or dampen our worship of God.

Satisfied In Christ

Let’s camp in Ephesians for a moment. “To the praise of His glorious grace” is our foundation of worship. (Eph. 1) Relief from sin was on God’s mind before it was on yours. Grace is a purposed activity to bring God glory. In Ephesians 2 we learn that while we were dead in sin (spiritually deaf, blind, dumb, mute, and lame), God made us alive together with Christ. In Ephesians 3, the peculiar grace of God at work in suffering sinners (Eph. 3:11) is why the Church glorifies God in every generation (Eph. 3:20-21).

I think the more our generation confesses our weakness, the more we will praise Him rightly. What greater suffering is there than to need the soul made right with a holy God.

Suffering Awaits Redemption

Many of today’s songs are filled with “heaven on earth” supplications - as Christ prayed the Father’s will and bowls of heaven are filling with prayers of the saints. More than ever, I think the global Church is singing about what’s to come! Friends, worship awaiting the day that our redeemer comes to bring wrath to the world and deliverance for His own. Sing with confidence that the God of heaven will certainly bring His unfiltered physical presence to His people and “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Rev.  21:4)

Every gathering is an opportunity to anticipate (Rom. 8:23) the end of “the former things”. History tells of many great men and women who fervently loved Christ, but suffered depression, anxiety, addictions, and great loss. In their suffering, they, like Spurgeon, who was often bed-ridden by depression and rejected by many in his profession, “blessed the Lord continually”.

You Are Not Your Own

“For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.” (Rom. 14:8) He owns us. The scriptures are clear - we are objects of mercy for the sake of His own glory and Name. Worshipper and worship leader, do you have such a theology of God’s Church? Are you singing about God’s sovereign work in both our salvation and our daily living? In your suffering do you sing of God’s glorious work?

Every person in the Scriptures who took God at His word also confessed his ability to mold every facet of this world for His purposes. (Is. 46:8-13) Friends, you and your congregation will be most at home and most at rest with God when you depend completely on His ability. We may suffer, we may be physically affected by this fading world, but we are held fast by God himself - the Creator, Author, and Perfector of our faith. This approach will increase our intimacy to want Christ and to know him more and more. (Phil 3) Intimate spiritual worship comes through suffering as we discover how ever-satisfying Christ is.

 

Suffering exist because sin exist and yet, Christ has come to redeem us from its curse so that we may live to God! When we ground our worship in the truth of God’s promise and work, we sing Spirit-filled songs that are higher than a world that is passing away. We sing to glory of God though the person of Jesus Christ.

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